Lockdown restrictions loosened as worries about food shortages riseAgriculture Inputs Company in Dhangadhi starts distributing chemical fertiliser to farmers.
The local administration on Thursday moved to loosen the lockdown following concerns that keeping tens of thousands of farmers from their fields could lead to food shortages.
The regional office of Agriculture Inputs Company in Dhangadhi started distributing chemical fertiliser to farmers in different areas so they could apply it to their fields, but its warehouse was emptied in two days.
Farmer Ganga Chaudhary of Thapapur is worried that fertiliser shortages have appeared even before the start of the paddy planting season.
"It's nothing new. We are used to seeing fertiliser and seed shortages every year," said Chaudhary. "We are forced to buy materials smuggled from India. Now, due to the lockdown, even contraband supplies are hard to find," he said. "We can't get paddy seeds in the market either."
Farmers in the southern Tarai plains annually resort to smuggled fertiliser as domestic supply is irregular; but this year, India itself may run short due to the global lockdown. Nepali farmers will be in deep trouble if they can't obtain adequate quantities of soil nutrients.
State-subsidised fertilisers fulfil just 25-30 percent of the total requirement, and the rest is met through informal imports or smuggling through the porous border with India.
A study conducted by the Finance Ministry in 2006 put the share of informal fertiliser imports at 71.6 percent. Annual demand currently stands at 700,000 tonnes. The study shows that around 50 percent of the total imported fertilisers is used for paddy and 15 percent for maize.
The Agriculture Ministry said that as the fertiliser provided by the Indian government to their farmers is highly subsidised, a vast quantity finds its way to Nepal, particularly in the Tarai region.
The government has increased the budget for the distribution of subsidised chemical fertiliser from Rs5 billion to Rs9 billion this fiscal year to ensure timely supply and sufficient quantity, but the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown could pull out some of the funds.
Nawal Singh Bogati, manager of Agriculture Inputs Company in Dhangadhi, said the local administration decided to ease the lockdown restrictions and asked them to resume distribution of fertiliser and seeds.
"We issued fertiliser to about a dozen cooperatives in Tikapur Municipality on Thursday." Cooperatives in Janaki Nagar Rural Municipality received fertiliser on Friday.
"We have started distributing fertilisers and seeds to the cooperatives in all 13 local units in the district," he said.
The state-owned supplier of subsidised fertiliser channels inputs to the farmers through cooperatives. There are 226 cooperatives affiliated to it.
Bogati said they had introduced a quota system as there wasn't enough fertiliser to go around. The company warehouse contains only 1,500 tonnes of DAP, 2,600 tonnes of urea and 3,500 tonnes of potash.
"We have asked Kathmandu for adequate supplies." According to Bogati, they have ordered 1,500 tonnes of fertiliser from Bhairahawa for immediate distribution for spring crops like maize and paddy.
The main activity in the farming calendar, paddy planting, is still a way off, but the company is already running out of fertiliser.
"For the upcoming paddy cultivation period, we need more than 15,000 tonnes of chemical fertiliser," said Bogati. "This amount has been requested from the headquarters in Kailali." The usual paddy acreage is 72,000 hectares.
Nepal is looking at a favourable ‘normal’ monsoon season this year which is good news for the country’s paddy farmers. But they are staying home twiddling their thumbs due to the virus lockdown.
The rice planting season normally begins in early May in the hills and in June in the Tarai, the country's food basket. The monsoon usually begins on June 10 and lasts till September 23.
Nearly three-quarters of the annual rainfall in the country occurs during the monsoon and sustains the livelihood of 66 percent of the population that depends on agriculture.
But as tens of thousands of farmers have been under lockdown since March 24, there are fears that the boost a normal monsoon could provide to this year's paddy crop could be lost.
The 16th session of the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum, a consortium of meteorologists and hydrological experts from South Asia, has predicted a normal monsoon over South Asia this summer.
But a looming shortage of chemical fertilisers with factories across the world shut down has dampened expectations.
A shortage of workers could affect the delivery of chemical fertilisers for the upcoming paddy planting season, according to Bishnu Prasad Pokhrel, spokesperson for Agriculture Inputs Company.
“We have adequate stocks of diammonium phosphate, the most widely used phosphorus fertiliser, but we could run low on urea if suppliers fail to deliver it on time,” said Pokhrel.
According to Pokhrel, the company has 70,000 tonnes of chemical fertiliser stored in its warehouses; but the requirement during the paddy planting season from June-August is more than double the current stockpile.